Greetings, Glancers! Can you taste it? Can you feel it? We’re almost there, almost at the end of our Bon Jovi adventure. Of course, I could have listened to all the albums and posted about them in a matter of weeks rather than dragging it out for years, but I prefer to be languid in all things. The band’s 11th album was released in 2009 and was promised to be a return to their big chorus rock roots, rather than the more Country inspired 10th album. If you read my post on Lost Highway, you’ll know that I didn’t find it (thankfully) overly Country. So naturally, this album is probably going to be filled with fiddles. Looking at the twelve tracks there isn’t a single one I recognise, so this should be an entirely new experience.
We Weren’t Born To Follow: Opens promisingly enough, with a driving MOR beat. Inspiring lyrics. Good enough chorus with some ‘yeah yeah’ stuff which the crowd will lap up. Verses okay too. Doesn’t break any new ground and could be something they’d written twenty years earlier. A safe fan-pleasing start.
When We Were Beautiful: With a name like that, it’s bound to be a ballad. Musically it starts out that way, a lone guitar plucking a simple two note riff. Lyrically, it doesn’t seem like a love song at the outset, more a song of desperation. A threat of a surge of chords comes. Then it aims at being an inspirational epic rather than a ballad, with growing beats and additional layers. It’s a little too melodically simplistic to get there, so far. The vocals at times sound very heavily edited. At least they’ve taken care to make something distinct. It’s a song which grows towards a peak which never comes – the chorus is less of an explosion, more of a nice long arm stretch when you’ve been sitting for an hour.
Work For The Working Man: Wait a minute, that riff sounds like You Gave Love A Bad Name, but modified ever so minutely. More lyrics about living instead of dying – see more on this later – verses a little aimless. Chorus feels like one we’ve heard before and the shouts of ‘work’ in the background… I understand what they’re going for but it comes off as cheesy, as many of these things do when Bon Jovi tries them. People who don’t know any better or care will still chant and fist pump to it. The way he sings ‘man’ in the chorus – as ‘maeehhhhhheeen’ is not good.
Superman: A lone guitar and a single note this time. Wafting and light. Better verse melodies, a classic Jovi style pre-chorus, and a big classic Jovi style chorus. Much better, just lacking a bit of that youthful urgency which most artists lose as they age. The bridge isn’t the best, but doesn’t take much of the charm from the whole.
Bullet: There’s the mouth box. This is another song where it feels like they’ve cherry picked from their greatest hits and done some revisionist re-constructional surgery. This one is clearly Keep The Faith churned and made anew. Merged with It’s My Life. It’s not as good as either of those. The chorus is pretty good, and they play around with their usual structure with all of these cut and paste antics.
Thorn In My Side: Good start. I half expected this to be a cover. They try to be more urgent here – it’s a fun song which could have been a single if it had been written and recorded in the 80s. I like the verse melodies and guitar parts – very simple but that usually all you need as long as the emotion and idea are solid. Chorus isn’t bad – I can see others liking it more than I do. This one retcons Born To Be My Baby.
Live Before You Die: Based on name only I expected this one to be a revision of Living On A Prayer. But no, it begins with piano and vocals only. An introspective, nostalgic, sweet song which is meant to be inspirational – doesn’t quite match the message with the melody. Some violins in the background. The bridge tries to go full emotion/full heart-string tugging and is somewhere between a noble effort and a cheesy failure. This one fans will absolutely love, just misses something for me.
Brokenpromiseland: Fades in with promise, the ‘woo oohs’ take the promise away, then the verse gets better. Not their usual sound, sound more like a British Indie band in the guitar approach. This one’s pretty good too actually – now that I’ve worked out what it reminds me of – Cessation by The Music, of all things. It’s slower and not as potent as that song, but it’s similar enough while being more gentle and having a more commercial melodic approach. More strings too.
Love’s The Only Rule: Yikes, this one I was about to say also sounds like The Music, but then it stopped. Still, that riff sort of had that dance rock vibe. Verses are fine, pre chorus is better, and the chorus is better again – the formula a band like Bon Jovi should be following. The spoken vocal piece is silly and reminds us the band will never lose that cheese-tag.
Fast Cars: Feels like a weaker song, or a mid-album track too many. Still not bad, just the idea of the lyrics and the metaphor is silly. Melodies are a mixture of twenty other Bon Jovi songs. Fans will enjoy it, but it’s not great.
Happy Now: Drum building. Another simple, few-noted riff. The verses aren’t worth much, but the pre-chorus and chorus swell nicely into an emotive whole. The vocals are more strained than in the good old days and you wonder what it could have sounded like with a younger Jon giving it a crack. The emotion is there, the melody is there, that’s all I need to get started.
Learn To Love: Strummed acoustic and single piano soft notes. More inspirational stuff for people who need it. It’s very nice – somewhere between the dreaded Coldplay, and U2, done Bon Jovi style. Very good chorus and a strong ending to a pretty good album.
It’s another album which was better than I was expecting. They shouldn’t really be this consistent this deep into their career, so a lot of credit should go to them for keeping things going at a certain quality. Of course, they’re not doing anything amazing, not reinventing themselves anymore, and if anything on this album they decided that safe was best and simply took certain pieces of their most famous songs, added a few new words and twists and slapped them together into something new. They’re not getting better with age, but after a few blips, they’re not getting noticeably worse.
Lyrically it’s the same old subjects – love, memory, working hard, freedom. Musically – well you know it’s them. On a good day I might say this was one of their best, most consistent albums – just Jon’s vocals aren’t quite so searing as they once were and 11 albums in it’s more difficult to distinguish the more average songs from the rest. I see no reason why existing fans wouldn’t absolutely adore this and there’s a few songs which could intrigue enough listens to explore their back catalogue.
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: We Weren’t Born To Follow. Superman. Bullet. Thorn In My Side. Brokenpromiseland. Love’s The Only Rule. Happy Now. Learn To Love.